How Seeing Us Struggle Impacts Our Children

I had a panic attack.

It caught me by surprise. The day had been one of high emotion but I had felt calm, navigating it with consideration. And then it was as though all my stores had drained instantly at once and I was paralysed. I breathed, I spoke kindly to myself; you’ve given so much today, your body is bringing in the adrenaline to help re-energise your system, it feels uncomfortable while the generator starts up. I breathed.

And my heart got angrier. It was loud and beating with such urgency. This is more than adrenaline, I couldn’t help but say to myself. And the fears began to take hold. Did my arm always feel this numb? Was it a bad sign that my chest was this itchy? I’m sweating, I shouldn’t be sweating, it isn’t hot tonight? I frantically brought my fingers to my neck, I tried to find my pulse. I listened; was that beat off time?

I called out to Chris; help me. Help me, I need somebody to help me, something is very wrong. My body feels very wrong.

I wanted an ambulance. He agreed but offered to help me to the balcony and the cool fresh air sounded so inviting to my escalating body. Slowly, we made our way outside.

There was a storm, I watched the lightning breaking up the sky. And my mind still raced, connecting dots and threads towards disaster. I focused on my breathing. And my mind still raced. I paced. I rocked. And my mind still raced.

And then there was a voice, a hand, a smile as our five year old, Aubrey, joined us on the balcony.

I didn’t hide how I was feeling. Technically, I didn’t have access to that ability but I didn’t; hide it or want to.

She turned to me and said she thought this might happen. What do you mean I asked. I could just feel it, I could feel this coming she explained. And we just looked knowingly at each other. The air just feels thicker sometimes.

It helped, that she saw me, she saw how I was feeling and she was there anyway. She was just there. And I was there, completely there. We were there together.

After a while it got cold and they helped me to the shower, Aubrey got me a towel. I feel really overwhelmed I told them in tears. She nodded. Things can be so overwhelming sometimes. She nodded again, for me too she said.

As I began showering I felt my heart returning to its regular scheduled beating. I let them know they could return to the bedroom, I’d join them soon. Are you sure Chris asked. I was sure. As they left Aubrey looked at me and said if you need us, we are here for you. And I believe her.

As I looked at her face, I saw some concern but not fear. And I saw some shared sorrow but not distress. But the thing the surprised me most? I saw gratitude.

And it reminded me of how I have always felt when invited into somebody’s vulnerability; honoured. And it reminded me how I used to feel when considering inviting somebody into my vulnerability; burdensome.

The trouble is that when we withdraw and withhold, when we exclude somebody from our vulnerability we do not communicate what we perhaps intend to: that we value them too much to burden them with ourselves. We communicate that to hurt, to need, to share… is a burden. We communicate that to be completely ourselves… is a burden. And then that becomes true whether it is us who does so or them.

By closing our doors, we begin closing theirs. Because when we are connected to people (and really, we are all connected): we share the same doors.

What we communicate becomes conflicting when we validate our children’s emotions but belittle our own, when we honour our children’s emotions but dismiss our own, when we acknowledge our children’s emotions but deny our own, when we give visibility to our children’s emotions but hide our own, when we empathise with our children’s emotions but chastise our own, when we support openness of our children’s emotions but conceal our own.

When you cannot ask for help without self-judgment, you are never really offering help without judgment. — Brené Brown

They aren’t going to balance this equation by assuming that you are less deserving of compassion or that they are more deserving of compassion: they’re going to match the compassion you have for yourself with the compassion they have for themselves.

So if I want my children to value themselves, to value the entire spectrum of their experience and reality? Then I have to own mine enough to share it, to frame it in compassion and to accept help and empathy.

We tell ourselves our children are afraid of our vulnerability so that we can justify shielding it away from them. But they are not afraid, we are. And then we inspire them to be too.

Not me. Not anymore.

Imperfections are not inadequacies; they are reminders that we’re all in this together. ― Brené Brown

I had a panic attack and my daughter was there for me. She wanted to be and I wanted her to be too.

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5 Comments

  1. So beautiful and true. Thank you so much for sharing. I am a new mum and feel vulnerable a lot. I am so grateful to people like you who share their family experiences so authentically.

  2. Beautiful and honest. I grew up in a family that shamed and buried negative emotions and it took me years as an adult to learn to welcome vulnerability and to share it with my children. Thanks for this lovely post.

  3. So amazing that your family are so supportive of each other. I am not sure if this is helpful as all mental health is extremely personal, but I also experienced panic attacks for the first time this year. I realized that I wasn’t properly processing my own feelings during stressful parenting situations and over time there was a build up that overflowed.

    I have three children, one neurodiverse and in need of a lot of my emotional energy to assist him to regulate his. This is very rewarding for both of us, but also very draining. I know that keeping myself calm and level when inside I wanted to scream or run or walk away, became overwhelming. I realise that after each emotionally draining event, I need to give myself space to calm, reflect and heal. It is something we both understand now.

    I am writing this basically in solidarity and also as a mum reminding another mum to make sure you are identifying and addressing your own self care needs.

  4. I’m hoping that by facing the man in the mirror and learning to love myself will provide a way to regain control over my past insecurities to ensure VICTORY over the demons of DRUGS. We must create a web of protection for our youth to fight against the power of METH (see my war on meth). VICTORY in this struggle provides a new self-respect, identity, piece of mind. Like a saber-tooth tiger, we must fight fearlessly to ensure victory. For the youngest, a pumkin patch of tranquility awaits. The fight is real; we will succeed!

  5. I’m in tears while reading your post. I grew up with parents that never showed their ‘negative’ emotions en I’m in paychotheraph for years already, to learn that my emotions are ok and that it’s ok to show them. I hope so much that I can give my children the message that it’s ok to be vurnerable and that, unless the bad example I got from my parents, I will be able to not hide e my emotions for him.

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